Every family has a heirloom. A jewel, a story, a secret... I have a book of recipes, compiled by my grandmothers and great-aunts and carefully perfected and written down by my mom. When I decided to cross the ocean forever I took the book with me. Nothing in the book is really a secret. We were never of a non-sharing kind. The food is to be enjoyed by everyone. The process of making the special foods is to be enjoyed by everyone. Happiness is to be shared. And one of the happiest and most treasured of our recipes is Vanilice. Vanilice (pronounced vah-ny-ly-tseh) are tiny Serbian cookies made for holidays and special occasions. Vanilice (which means “little vanillas”) are bite-sized walnut cookie sandwiches with jam and vanilla-scented powdered sugar. Vanilice hold such a special place in the Serbian cuisine and tradition that in good old days every self-respecting lady of the house was expected to make a very special jam, usually rose hip or apricot, to be used for Vanilice. There are many variations of the Vanilice recipe. Thousands of them. My grand-aunt Cica was the creator of our family's version; she was so proud of it that until the day she died, she supervised every family member in the process of making Vanilice. Including my grandmother.
P.S. Before you go to work, a couple of important things: 1) You must get the best quality lard, 2) you must be patient and let Vanilice sit in a cool dark place for at least one or two days before serving—not in the fridge, and 3) you must use good quality firm jam—unless you want your Vanilice running all over the place. Too many musts, but it will be worth it. —QueenSashy
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: QueenSashy is a scientist and blogger who keeps her family's Eastern European recipes alive.
WHAT: Dainty sandwich cookies with a rich taste and a rich history.
HOW: Make tiny, tender cookies with ground walnuts and rendered lard, then use them to sandwich a dot of bright jam and roll it all in vanilla sugar.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Find leaf lard at your farmers' market or butcher shop—these little cookies are worth the effort to find it and render it down. These Vanilice are beautiful and delicate, crumbling into a tart finish of jam. While you can taste every ingredient on its own, they all come together for a very special holiday cookie. —The Editors
A couple of days before making the cookies, mix the confectioners' sugar with the vanilla bean in a small bowl with a tight lid. This is your vanilla sugar. Store in a dry place.
In a mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the lard with the granulated sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg, egg yolks, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add the walnuts and flour and beat until a uniform dough forms. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325° F convection bake (or 350° regular bake). Place the dough on a work surface dusted with flour and roll it out to a 1/4-inch-thick round. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small round cookie cutter (I use 1-inch or quarter-size cutters), stamp out the cookies and arrange them one inch apart on the baking sheets.
Bake for about 12 minutes, so that the rounds remain white. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack or flat surface to cool completely.
Once the cookies are cool, take one cookie round at a time, spread the jam on it, and top with another cookie round.
Roll each cookie sandwich generously in the vanilla sugar. Put the cookies into a tin box, and wait for one to two days before serving.
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.